Bryn Mawr Alumni News
"Evelyn Barish '56 pens biography on literary theorist Paul de Man."
Chronicle of Higher Education
"A biography two decades in the making reveals what the renowned theorist concealed."
“[A] shocking biography…Barish did many years of research, interviewing de Man’s widows as well as dozens of his acquaintances, and what she discovered beggars the imagination: de Man was not just a collaborator but a world-class con artist, an embezzler, forger and bigamist who repeatedly falsified the details of his personal history in the most brazen ways… Barish skillfully takes us inside the enigma of de Man’s strange life story.”
-David Mikics, The Nation
“[De Man] was a slippery Mr. Ripley, a confidence man and a hustler who embezzled, lied, forged, and arreared his way to intellectual acclaim…Anyone who is inclined to the notion that criticism is a mode of autobiography, as I am, will find provocative the connections between de Man’s cobwebby life and his theoretical vocabulary.”
-Christine Smallwood, Harper's Magazine
“[A] stinging assessment…As the biography rolls to its close, Barish reiterates in multiple formulations her stern judgment that character is intellectual fate….She puts the last nail in the coffin of de Man’s inflated reputation, revivifying a rare genre of exposé—the academic as con man.” Read More...
-Carlin Romano, The Chronicle Review
“The Double Life of Paul de Man revives the man and his fall. This time, we get a story of the professor not just as a young collaborator, but as a scheming careerist, an embezzler and forger who fled Belgium in order to avoid prison, a bigamist who abandoned his first three children, a deadbeat who left many rents and hotel bills unpaid, a liar who wormed his way into Harvard by falsifying records, a cynic who used people shamelessly…Compelling…Picaresque.” Read More...
-Susan Rubin Suleiman, The New York Times Book Review
“[De Man’s] story, the story of a concealed past, was almost too perfect a synecdoche for everything that made people feel puzzled, threatened, or angry about literary theory. Evelyn Barish’s new biography, The Double Life of Paul de Man, is an important update on the story.... [Barish] has an amazing tale to tell. In her account, all guns are smoking…. Fascinating.” Read More...
-Louis Menand, The New Yorker
“[A] painstaking and probing account…Ultimately, a mark of Barish’s achievement is that, by the end of her story, de Man confounds and eludes us no less than he did his contemporaries.”
-Robert Zaretsky, The American Scholar
“I am taking immense pleasure in the revelations offered by a new book, The Double Life of Paul de Man, by Evelyn Barish. I shall propose her for a Presidential Medal of Freedom once we get a proper president.” Read More...
-R. Emmett Tyrrell, The Washington Examiner
“A riveting biography of master confidence man Paul de Man (1919–1983), manipulator of the facts and influential literary instructor—a character both preposterous and irresistible…An extraordinary story of a complex personality presented with a wise dose of irony and respect.”
-Kirkus, starred review
"[A] vivid recreation....The picture that emerges is that of a charismatic and dishonest opportunist who, after embezzling funds from a publishing house he founded, fled to America and reinvented himself as an academic. Barish lets the facts speak for themselves, but leaves no doubt that a “philosophy of language” built on the innate instability of words and futility of communication provided de Man with an appropriate means for obscuring his past." Read More...
“In this stunning biography…readers will marvel at how successfully de Man hid his misdeeds behind the luminous persona of a brilliant critical theorist, repeatedly using the plausibility of past lies to leverage yet larger new prevarications... An astonishing exposé.”
-Booklist, starred review